How to Make The Best Cappuccino
The World is really into looking for the best of everything. Some of my favorite protagonists in treasured novels are the ones who are on a mission to find or make the best of something: perfume, taco, motorcycle maintenance. Well, I thought that it might be valuable to go on record as to a sure-fire methodology for generating the absolute best cappuccino, but first we need to look at what a cappuccino actually is.
What is a cappuccino?
Answer: The cappuccino is a coffee drink comprised of steamed milk, foam and espresso. The bottom layer is espresso, the middle layer is steamed milk and the top layer is foam. The ratio of milk to foam will differ depending on who is preparing the drink and how you prefer the drink to be made.
Assuming that the barista pulled a good shot of espresso, the main thing that will differentiate one cappuccino from another is the way the milk is steamed. It is very important that the coffee recipe for this drink be made up of micro bubble foam. This ensures that the drink will have a pleasing sweetness and optimum consistency.
Dry or Wet Cappuccinos
There are two types of cappuccinos. A dry cappuccino is made up primarily of foam. A wet cappuccino is made up of more milk than a traditional cappuccino but less than a cafe latte.
What kind of Coffee Do You Need To Make Cappuccino?
You, of course, must start with a variety of coffees that have flavor profiles to contribute the melody for your drink. Kind of like a conductor of an orchestra, you get to choose which instruments are going to play. There are several coffees on the market that can become part of the best cappuccino, and deserve to play. One of them is a Costa Rica Tarrazu, which offers a marvelous range of bright notes and balance. There is a Altura Mexico that will be good for the bass. The Brazils that we have really want to play, but everytime I give them a chance they tend to skew the rhythm, so I just have them sit out for now. There is a Zimbabwe that offers a wonderful quality, if used sparingly, and I also have a good Sumatra – usually a problematic coffee for an espresso blend – that has really shined when brewed solo, so it will be asked to play, also.
The Roast And The Blend
Roasting these coffees requires concentration and determination if they are to end up in a great cappuccino. It is best to start with a sacrificial roast. I like to use whatever odd coffee has been sitting forlornly in a sample tray un-marked on a shelf of the Lab, throw it in as soon as the roaster has preheated, and take it just beyond second crack before dropping into the cooling tray. I use one of Carl Staub’s little black boxes that control the environment temperature of the roaster with a first phase temperature fairly low until the beans start to turn yellow. The second phase temperature I set based upon my final desired degree of roast, hotter for darker. My internal dialogue during roasting is focused on guiding each of the coffee’s toward their highest performance, coaxing from them expression of all of their potential, letting them display their range and depth of character, but keeping them in the bounds of harmony with their intended partners in the final composition. Each coffee is important by itself, but it must be harnessed to play with others.
The order in which I roast each of the coffees varies – I know it is important but every day tends to suggest its own prescribed organization that is natural. The roasting becomes a dance; measuring the coffee, loading it into the roaster, adjusting the temperatures, dropping the coffee, and then stirring it into the other already roasted coffees as soon as it is cooled. Even the introduction of the new coffee into the already blended coffees becomes somewhat ritualistic. Although not tremendously formal, there is still the tendency to have the merging of new with old be ceremonial, stirring a few times this way, than that, then carefully putting down the mixing container until the next batch is ready. The life force in the container becomes tangible, the anticipation similar to the orchestra tuning up before the concert. You know when you are done when the tension is at its peak, and then it all gets quiet.
Taking the blend over to the espresso machine, clean out your coffee grinder of all the old coffee, wash out the hopper, dry it, and then pour the new coffee in. Running a little coffee through the grinder to season the burrs and freshen the grind hopper is another sacrificial step that is necessary, and a good opportunity to check the grind. To make a cappuccino it requires employment of the leveling method for measuring and evenly distributing the dose of coffee into the filter basket, so you can just grind enough to fill a double filter. Making first one shot, then at least another, before even trying the taste and narrowing down to the perfect grind setting for your coffee.
The Equipment Needed for Making Cappuccino
Getting the best cappuccino your meam your equipment has to be at its optimum performance. Sparkling clean, inside and out, with good fresh water, and temperature accurately set. Tamping the coffee firmly and uniformly, pull a shot and taste it for its flavor. Use all of your senses to evaluate if it is worthy to be used to make the drink. Remember that the standards are very high to be considered the Best, so your criteria for judging this espresso must be of the most exacting caliber. I like to say that in a great shot of espresso I can start to see the divine – all of nature’s wonders at its most passionate and intense. If your espresso starts to express itself in this way, then you are ready for the preparation of the cappuccino.
Putting It All Together To Make Your Cappuccino
Before the performance begins, you must reflect on your audience. You have constructed a blend of coffees that you think are best suited for the task of satisfying your audience, but at this point their interpretation and how the audience will become infinitely satisfied is a critical issue. What you do and how you do it are not a static phenomenon, they are dependant upon who this drink will be made for, and under what conditions.
Taking a small pitcher firmly in your left hand, pour just enough cold, good tasting sweet milk into the pitcher. Clearing the steam nozzle of condensation, place the nozzle just barely into milk and open the steam valve fully. Allow the milk to gather the air introduced by the steam vortex at the surface, lowering the pitcher as the milk volume rises. Then when the pitcher starts to turn warm, lower the nozzle so that the milk keeps rotating vigorously, mixing the air that you have added to make tight silky foam. Bring the milk only up to temperature where you can’t hold the pitcher anymore, which should be the right temperature for making good cappuccino.
Quickly, go to making the perfect espresso, having already the confidence of your earlier work that the coffee and machine are ready for their ultimate performance. Have that shot pour right into a clean and warm beautiful cup, one designed specifically for the purpose of carrying a awesome and maybe even your best cappuccino. Watch the espresso form in the bottom of the cup, cheering it on as it layers itself and spins its own designs and texture down the ribbon of extraction into the pool of bliss. Then spin the foamed milk in the pitcher once, twice, and then pour the milk into the center of the espresso and then letting it dance along the surface to form a pure pretty design. With all of the sense of the importance of the occasion, and all the pride for craft, yet humbleness of demeanor and expectation, lay the cup in front of the intended audience for this drink.
How Do you Know when your Cappuccino is the Best?
You will know when you have succeeded at making the World’s Best Cappuccino when the audience for its consumption says “WOW!” and hums while they drink. The light in their eye, the smile on their face, the hop in their footsteps will be a sure indicator. Another good sign is when they are licking the foam out of the cup (although it is a little embarrassing to witness this in a public place, no matter how gratifying).